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News :: Environment
Peabody Energy’s Crimes: Part I
13 Dec 2005
Looking at the St. Louis Coal Company’s Destruction in Arizona and Appalachia.
Peabody Energy is the largest coal company in the United States. It is based in St. Louis and is an honored member of the city’s corporate community. It claims to be a responsible corporate citizen, boasting on its website about the distinctions it has received for land reclamation, environmental stewardship, and safety standards. However, if one visits the coal fields of Arizona or Appalachia a different story is told. A story which gives an image of Peabody the company would rather not brag about; an image of an irresponsible coal corporation that seeks profit at the undeniable expense of the land and its people.
Peabody’s damage is most apparent in Arizona, on the Hopi and Navajo Indian reservation near Black Mesa. This land is home to some 24,000 indigenous people, as well as the largest coal deposit in the Southwest. The gluttonous eyes of Peabody Energy fell on this reservation in 1966 when it signed a strip mining lease with the newly formed Hopi and Navajo tribal councils. Peabody had helped influence the membership of each council to ensure the company and each tribe would have a profitable relationship. The agreement was done in secret without any larger input from members of either tribe. The strip mining agreement promised to bring great wealth to the native peoples, but the subsequent cultural and environmental annihilation due to the mining has proved the Black Mesa residents have been victims of the racist colonial exploitation that stains U.S history. Peabdoy Energy and the federal government have been complicit in the continued policy of cultural and ecological genocide against indigenous people.

Since 1966, the destruction of Black Mesa has become quite obvious. For the past thirty years Peabody has been pumping a billion gallons of water a year from the Navajo aquifer, which is the only source of water for the Hopi and Navajo people on the reservation. The Department of the Interior has reported that Peabody’s aquifer use is causing a range of groundwater related problems. Wells and springs have dried up, grazing land for sheep has been dried and depleted, and certain plant species have begun to die.

The strip mining on the reservation has destroyed ancient ruins, burial and other sacred sites, religious structures, and many plants and trees used for medicinal purposes. The indigenous people of Black Mesa have been restricted from certain religious sites and from maintaining their heritage and traditional lifestyle. Peabody’s public relations department has stated that “the aquifer is a resource both tribes have elected to market for economic development”. Yet, this justification cannot bring any comfort to those who have had to live under Peabody’s exploitation and occupation of their home.

The most disgusting injustice perpetrated by Peabody came in 1974 when its desire for even more coal led to the forced relocation of over 12,000 Navajo Indians and roughly one hundred Hopi. In the early 1970s the Bechtel Corporation began building two major electrical plants in the Southwest. The coal to power the plants would be provided by Peabody, namely its two mines located on Black Mesa. The operation would make Black Mesa the largest strip mine in the U.S, something that Peabody’s voracious elites could not let slip through their fingers. For this nightmare to come true the people living near the strip mining operations would have to move. In order to pull off such a shady endeavor, Peabody and other players fabricated a Hopi and Navajo land dispute. John Boyden, a coal company lackey, went to Congress and introduced legislation to divide Black Mesa, giving 900,000 acres to residents on mostly Hopi territory. The legislation included the removal of individuals who had been displaced by the new agreement. Thus, 12,000 Navajos and roughly one hundred Hopis were forcefully relocated to Sanders, Arizona, which is home to the worst radioactive waste spill in North America. Since the relocation the displaced indigenous people have suffered from extremely high rates of suicide, poverty, cancer and birth defects. The United Nations in the late 1980s even described it as “the most flagrant violation of indigenous peoples’ rights in this hemisphere”. It is sad to say that this act is all but surprising. It is yet another example of a racist, classist, and ecologically damaging corporate and government partnership to remove those who stand in the way of profit.

Peabody’s destruction is also present in Appalachia, but that will be discussed more in Part II of this article, as well as a more comprehensive explanation of the practice of strip mining. It is clear, however, that Peabody Energy falls into the categorization of most multinational corporations this day in age; a profit hungry institution hellbent on ruining the earth and people for monetary gain. The people of Black Mesa deserve justice, but it seems unlikely. Protests and testimonies to Peabody and the U.S government by the Navajo and Hopi people have fallen on deaf ears, and the devastation continues.

While we may live far away from the depressing scene on Black Mesa here in St. Louis, we must accept some responsibility for its existence. It is time for us to pressure Peabody to end its inhumane and environmentally disastrous policies. We have the opportunity as citizens of this city to push for more sustainable energy solutions as opposed to the use of fossil fuels. With our collective voice, we may be able to force Peabody to listen.

This work is in the public domain

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